Immigration Reform: Separating the Real from the Distraction
by Christopher Dodson
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
August 2010

Our nation needs comprehensive immigration reform. Laws like the one recently enacted — and then partially enjoined — in Arizona, however, are a dangerous distraction from the path toward real reform that provides a just immigration policy humanely secures our borders.

Arizona’s law, known as SB 1070, reflects the frustration people understandably have with the federal government’s failure to enact comprehensive reform. Congress has not even managed to pass piecemeal proposals, such as the DREAM Act. Other efforts, such as attempts at greater border enforcement, have been incomplete or misguided. Meanwhile, the populace has become increasingly angry, frustrated, and divided. It is a recipe not for comprehensive solutions, but political posturing and shortsighted, if not dangerous, grandstanding.

Indeed, even the proponents and opponents of SB 1070 have tended, in this volatile atmosphere, to overstate what the law actually does or does not do. A few things are clear. At this point, at least some of the law’s provisions, have not withstood a legal challenge. This is because they interfere with what has historically been considered the sole jurisdiction of the federal government. One may sympathize with Arizona legislators who wanted to send a message to the federal government that if it does not act, they will. However, using legislation, especially one with real consequences for families and children, merely to send a message is rarely a good idea and certainly not an exercise in the virtue of prudence.

We also know that despite changes made to the law before final enactment to lessen its severity, implementation of the law could unjustly hurt families, children, and communities. This is one of the reasons the Catholic bishops of Arizona continue to express concern about the law. As they put it:

As Bishops in our respective dioceses, we know that in practically every parish there are families that have been living with the fear and anxiety generated by SB 1070 that they might be torn apart. The situation of these families might be that one parent is a citizen and that the other is not in our country legally. Or, the situation might be that some children in the family are citizens and that a brother or sister is not here legally. Our hearts go out to these families. We know them to be good people who work hard and who contribute to the economy and to the quality of life

of their communities.

Contrary to the belief of some, questioning or opposing SB 1070 is not the same as calling for open borders. The Arizona bishops have described their support of comprehensive reform — and laws like SB 1070 are a distraction from real reform — is predicated on their belief that:

  • Illegal immigration is bad for our nation. It is not good for us to not know who is entering our country.
  • Our international borders need to be secured and we need to be protected from drug smuggling, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, and violence.
  • There must be a process — but not amnesty — for persons who have entered our country illegally to pursue legal status. This process must have proportionate consequences for the act of illegal entry, consequences that would include fines, learning English, and going to the "back of the line" to seek citizenship.
  • Our nation needs a program that would allow needed workers to enter the country legally. This program must include protection of worker rights.

At least one North Dakota legislator had expressed plans to introduce legislation modeled after SB 1070. Let us pray that it does not happen. Legally, the effort might be futile. It may take years for the legalities of the Arizona case to sorted out. More troubling, such a bill would create divisions and inflame passions, but do nothing to move us toward comprehensive reform on a national level.